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Opinions of Thursday, 9 May 2019

Columnist: Kwadwo Owusu-Darko

Is Atta Akyea the right man for Works and Housing?

In the wake of the Saglemi Housing Project fiasco, there have been accusations by Samuel Atta Akyea and counter-accusations by former Mahama Administration appointees about who should be blamed.

Samson Ahi described Atta Akyea as being uninformed whilst others call for the Sector Minister to be sacked. The two disagreement centres on the amount Parliament approved for the project. One claims the amount was $200million and the other said it was $280million. What is more important? - the gross mismanagement and misappropriation of the allocated funds or the total amount? They cannot even remember and agree on the figure they both debated and approved in Parliament for the project to commerce.

Do these not bring into question their fitness and competencies to run capital projects? Why should such major projects be run by only politicians as Ministers appointed by leaders and men whose strength may not lie in those specific areas when Ghana has men and women with experience across the globe? Why should Housing be necessarily a political issue?

With the furore of bad publicity on Housing in the media, one wonders what is going on in the Ministry of Works and Housing. In this article, we examine Atta Akyea and the Mahama led administration role in this scandal and who we should hold accountable for this mess.

For the past two years no, concrete proposal on Housing has emerged from the Atta Akyea led Ministry for Works and Housing. He has just inaugurated a 16-member National Housing Committee to develop guidelines for the implementation of the National Mortgage and Housing Finance Scheme.

Unfortunately, this was derailed by the NDC story on the Saglemi Housing. Suddenly Atta Akyea was caught unaware and forced to respond. The ensuring episode started a media circus and the usual blame game between NDC and NPP igniting a tsunami of information flow on Housing. With the dust settled we now ask “Who is responsible for Housing Development in Ghana? - NDC, NPP or the Government?

The Housing Sector for many years has lacked investment and central Government support causing the unprecedented Housing Crisis or Housing Deficit. The problems facing the housing sector though complex, is pretty simple. However, the lack of focus, leadership and political infighting keep derailing the ideas put on the table.

The solution is about taking the politics out and getting career housing professionals turning the Government policy strategy into executable schemes. This means tackling the factors driving supply and demand in the housing market which involves:

- developing and implementing housing legislative instruments,

- establishing institutional structures,

- introduction of financing schemes,

- using modern technology to solving land tenure and acquisition problems,

- restructuring a fragmented construction sector,

- improving the supply of building materials,

- reforming planning regulation and enforcement.

Finally, establish a National Housing Development Agency led by housing professionals to develop and implement a long-term housing development programme across the country.

What then is Housing?

Housing is more than bricks and mortar, four walls with a roof or slabs and concrete. Housing is about the People, creating communities, a place where dreams and aspirations are fulfilled. However, for many years housing development in Ghana has mainly focused on building structures. Housing is a place people can call home, a purposeful developed environment where children and adults alike can thrive, engage their peers in the neighbourhood to develop their survival and people soft skills. A place where people learn to innovate, develop businesses, nurture their God-given talents in music, athletics, science, engineering and creative arts. Yet we build only for the selected few and not the majority who desperately need it.

As a Housing professional one reflects regularly on what can be easily done to resolve the Housing Crisis. Hence when you see political leaders educated, housed, paid well and driving around V8s all covered by taxpayers one wonders - Why can’t they take decisive actions or act in our best and common interest? Why do they break the law and get away with it?

The NDC is reported to have paid the contractor 99% of the contract sum even though it has completed about 20% of the total housing unit. Not even an attempt to keep a 10% retainer of the contract sum. This revelation was very shocking and illustrates the sheer incompetence of some of our political leaders and total disregard for our Constitution, rules and regulation they had developed to govern our nation.

They then confuse the public with reference to a mortgage package escrow account which has nothing to do the agreement signed with the contractor. The poor management of the Saglemi project is an indictment on the Mahama led NDC Administration and yet they accuse the present Government for stalling the project.

The Sector Minister is doing his very best to defend the government’s actions, but it is too little too late. One wonders why he has allowed the matter to drag on until now. The inconsistency in the Minister’s pronouncement about the project is worrying. This is the same man reported to have asked one senior professional with an investor capital for housing to leave his office out of anger.

He praised the Project on one occasion and in another describes it as a “white elephant” and in his latest press conference alleges criminality. It is reported since taking office the Minister has also authorised payment to the contractor. Atta Akyea therefore must also bear the blame for the scandal and the fact that the properties are now deteriorating. It is also unacceptable that though he has accused appointees of the Mahama Administration of corrupt practices, yet no one has been prosecuted for impropriety.

What the electorate would like to know is what the Sector Minister has been doing in the past two years.

How has he managed or turned around mismanaged projects under his stewardship?

What reforms or new policy initiatives is he proposing for the Housing Sector?

The establishment of the National Housing Committee is laudable. However, we need the Ministry to give us a national roadmap for housing development. This should also include sponsoring a Housing or Real Estate Bill, agreeing to a Parliamentary timetable to pass the bill and finally a Housing Transformation Agenda. Mr President anything short of this will be rejected by the electorate and Hon Atta Akyea position could become untenable.

Profile: Kwadwo Owusu-Darko is an architect and specialises in Housing. He has over 20yrs experience in real estate development, regeneration and housing management in the UK. He was a Director and Chairman of two Housing Associations. The Executive Director of Centre for Real Estate & Social Housing a policy think tank

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